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Sometimes Your Best Self Exists Outside of Motherhood

Sometimes Your Best Self Exists Outside of Motherhood

This week has been hectic. There was car trouble, an extra shift at work--which meant an extra rushed day—and there was a sick baby. This last one trumps all other happenings, obviously. She clung to me like a koala or monkey. Some nights her cries and thrashing went on for hours. The only sustenance she’d allow was nursing. Constant, when I was home. A sick child is pitiful, churning every last drop of empathy and nurturing out of a mother. Yes, I was nurtured out and just wanted a break. Typing that is completely cathartic and makes me feel extremely guilty.

 

I’ve prided myself on never cracking in my maternal role. When she was a newborn and ridden with reflux, she could scream in my ear for hours and I kept composure and serenity that even her father commented on.


  “How can you stand it?”


  “I don’t know,” I sang, “I’m the mom—this is what I have to do.”


  Inside, I beamed. When other moms said they had felt annoyed by their own tiny people or snapped from a lack of sleep, I remained the ethereal mother who loved her baby too much to let little obstacles tear her down. I had mastered motherhood by never feeling frustration with my baby, or ever letting her absorb my stress. The only stress I’d felt was when she refused bottles, and that was easily amended by increasing our time together. I told myself I was killing it, and—I admit it—I gloated internally because I never crumbled under pressure.


  This week was different. I wasn't clambering for more time with this baby-turned-feverish wolverine. At night, I begged the universe and every deity known to mankind to just let me sleep. I felt like I couldn't soothe her, because my own nerves were rattled and fried. When I went to work, I took big gulps of baby-free air. And then I wanted to cry. How horrible and selfish of me! She couldn't help that crying was her only means of communication, even if it sometime was a grating wail. I failed at perfection.


  Well, turns out...duh. I’m human, and flawed.


  Remember when I wrote that post about taking your baby on a date? It had all that talk about them deserving the freedom and the space to be a child. That same theory goes for moms, too. They need the space to be that self they were before children. We are entitled to quiet, to peace, to do the things that we love that have nothing to do with being a mother. This self-love, self-date, self-getaway is well deserved. It doesn't mitigate our mother-ness at all.


  I allowed myself to be a human outside of the context of motherhood. Drank an avocado margarita. Joined my fellow writers at a writing group. Holed myself up in my writing space to work on my novel.


  And after? There were those dimpled arms and slobbery kisses. They waited and I returned to them recharged and ready to tackle anything motherhood threw at me.

Slower Steps

Slower Steps

“Is she walking?” 

I hear this question, or some variation of it, all the time. Strangers ask it. Acquaintances weave it into each greeting. Family members express their concern. You see, my daughter is 19 months...and not walking, nor does she really seem that into the idea at all. I dont tell those inquiring that last part; instead I rattle off her skills, accomplishments, and make an array of excuses including:

Shes a preemie.

Her cat-sister is easier to play with at scooting-level.

She isn't walking, but she has over three books memorized and says more words than the average kids in her real and adjusted ages.

She can point out body parts on humans and animals!

Shes more verbal, like me.

Im sure Im smiling when I say these things. My sore cheeks prove that. Inside, though, Im worried. Did I do something wrong? Why didnt I go part-time earlier? It was clear immediately after my maternity leave was over that she wasnt going to accept bottles, and that was over 8 hours without nourishment on workdays. People assured me she made up for it nursing endlessly when I came home, but I don't think thats true. Some family members blame my attachment parenting, and I worry that theyre right. But then I think about my fellow AP mommiestheir babies walked on time. That makes me swirl down to the first postnatal worry: her prematurity. Will it be a lifelong hinderance?

Motherhood is a phantasmagoria of worry and comparisons to all other babies.

But It doesn't have to be. We dont need to excuse our children for being themselves. Accomplishments should be part of natural boasting and not be forced into a defense strategy.

Heres the true reason why my daughter isnt walking yet: shes an individual. She likes cats, owl books, the sound blocks make when they hit a wood floor. Oh, and shell walk when shes ready.

It's a Date! (with my baby)

It's a Date! (with my baby)

This past week I tried something new as a mother—scheduling dates with my toddler. This may seem silly or redundant since we’re together so often, and quite literally attached. She’s wrapped around my legs in the restroom; she’s pulling out the dishes I just stuck in the dishwasher. Her fingers splay across my cheek while we sleep beside each other. We’re the epitome of attachment parenting.


But, here’s the catch: she’s attached to me, and therefore to my adult existence. My daily routine consists of bills and writing and scraping up the messes left by this tiny human and her furry siblings—and she is glued to this daily ride. But it’s my ride, my to-do list. What about her day? Sure, her basic needs are met—I mean, we even have two lunches now!—but childhood isn’t simply built on bare sustenance and survival. It’s supposed to be built on magic and discovery and the pure awe that only exists during this fleeting stage of life.


That’s why I started scheduling us dates. The goal is one date for each day that I’m home—that’s a minimum of four dates per week. This last week we successfully had three. There was the park, where we marveled at fuzzy ducklings, squealed on the swing, and smeared dirt and sawdust all over ourselves and the metal slide. She giggled until she could barely breathe. The second date was a local indoor playground. I cheered when she slid down the plastic slide without my help. She befriended other minis. Our third date happened without ever leaving the house. We played with buckets of blocks and wooden puzzles and read her favorite stories without hesitation. And I ignored the dishes, the litterbox, the paragraphs I wanted (needed) to write. This was her time. Her childhood.


Baby dates don’t need to be extravagant events, they just have to be focused on the child. This means dedicating an hour or two to something that they will enjoy, like the simple act of playing with toys. Sometimes it’s easier to go elsewhere, to get out of the home and office to truly separate from adult responsibilities. Parks are a perfect setting for a baby date--no computer or vacuum cleaners there! During these dates, put away that phone. Because they are baby dates. They aren't simply a new interpretation of distractions for efficiently completing an adult’s to-do list; you know what I mean—the colorful pile of toys that you hope will occupy your child so you can get just a few more tasks accomplished. Those aren't baby dates.


It’s a relief to push away adult anxiety and relish life through the eyes of a small child—and not just for her. Here’s a secret: parents benefit from these dates, too. Everyone thrives off play and laughter and a brief abandonment of the mundane. After our dates, I come back to adult life with a vigor I’d stifled with stress. I’m more creative, energized, and thankful for what I have. And, my daughter? She’s smiling, relaxed, and more likely to let me distract her so I can get stuff done.


Take that little one’s childhood off the back burner. Replace it with all that other adult stuff that can wait for an hour or two.